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Showdown: Iraq -- Lines in the Sand

Aired March 15, 2003 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN PRESENTS. The U.S. military, poised on the brink of war. But what comes after the battle? Can the U.S. oversee a smooth transition?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am really concerned that the U.S. does not have the expertise and the skills to deal with the treacherous waters of Iraqi politics.


ANNOUNCER: Is war the only way to bring about regime change? Or should the U.S. try to assassinate Saddam Hussein? Would it be legal?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether we call it an assassination or coup d'etat, or a simple invasion, he's going to end up dead.


ANNOUNCER: Even if the U.S. wanted to carry out an assassination, could it get to Saddam Hussein?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest problem we have with assassinating Saddam Hussein is not the will, but the way.


ANNOUNCER: President Bush says Saddam Hussein is a threat.




ANNOUNCER: But could war with Iraq put the U.S. at war with the Arab world?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they know what war means (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Saddam Hussein.


ANNOUNCER: Our Sheila MacVicar takes a journey down the Arab street on the eve of a possible new conflict in Iraq. All ahead on this special report, "Showdown: Iraq -- Lines in the Sand."

AARON BROWN, HOST: If it comes to war with Iraq, the battle plan is deceptively simple: Strike fast and hard, very hard. Welcome to a special edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.

The Pentagon says the opening act of any new Gulf War would be one of shock and awe, a swift and thundering campaign so overwhelming that Saddam Hussein's defenses should fall at a matter of days. At least that's what the Pentagon believes, what the Bush administration hopes. And they may very well be right. Indeed, winning the war may be a whole lot easier than winning the peace. The future of Iraq beyond Saddam Hussein is fraught with uncertainty. The White House's post-war plan is still being developed, but outlines are emerging. Initially, the Pentagon says that once security has been established, Iraq will be divided into three sections for civil administration; each sector would oversee humanitarian assistance, reconstruction efforts and civil services.

In a nation of 24 million people, however, the devil is always in the details. Will the blueprint for the remaking of Iraq work? We begin with CNN's Andrea Koppel.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iraqi exile Laik Kuba (ph) works the room like a seasoned politician, talking up his vision of a post-Saddam democratic Iraq to other Iraqi expatriates in London.

In Washington, more networking. A speech in Chicago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no question about the extent of the U.S. commitment to Iraq post-Saddam. The real question is, commitment to what.

KOPPEL: Kuba (ph) is one of many Iraqi exiles competing for the Bush administration's ear. He is worried about the U.S. plan after it ousts Saddam from power; a military occupation for an indefinite period.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am really concerned that the U.S. does not have the expertise and the skills to deal with the treacherous waters of Iraqi politics.

KOPPEL: Kuba (ph) was born in Baghdad in 1955 to a Shiite father and a Sunni mother. This picture was taken in 1976, when he left for England to get a graduate degree in civil engineering. He did not it then, but it would be his last day in Iraq.

Away from home, he was free to speak out against Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi embassy in London took note and sent him a letter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say, please come to the embassy to discuss your study, and of course, to me that was very much a threat, and I did not contact the embassy. Since then, of course, I mean, immediately after that, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) nullified my passport, and a new life started for me.

KOPPEL: The new life was a career devoted to opposing Saddam Hussein. Now that the prospect of an Iraq without Saddam is a real possibility, Kuba (ph) worries the United States will end up running Iraq to the exclusion of Iraqis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really hope that there is more to the plan than simply a U.S. military rule.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not going to be something done to Iraq or to Iraqis. This will be something done in Iraq with Iraqis.

KOPPEL: Richard Haas (ph) is the head of policy planning for the State Department. He says the U.S. plan is for Iraqis to govern Iraq, but it's not clear when.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is one of the classic Goldy Locks situations. We want to avoid going too fast and too slow. We don't want to turn it over to the Iraqis in whole before they are ready for it. The last thing one wants to see is the deterioration of society, the emergence of all sorts of gangs and private armies, drug lords, terrorists and all that.

KOPPEL: Iraq is a volatile country, a mix of fructuous religious and ethnic groups, many with grievances. To avoid a civil war of score settling and bloodletting, the U.S. hopes to use its military to establish peace first, democracy later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is positive about the U.S. plan is it spells out a commitment. What bothers me a little bit, it's vague on many of the details.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to also educate them about the potential harm that could happen to their homeland.

KOPPEL: For the last year, Kuba (ph) has been trying to nail down the details in workshops like this one, the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, where hundreds of free Iraqis, like Kuba (ph), experts in their fields, have generated detailed proposals on everything from transitional justice to oil and agriculture. But on the crucial question of who will govern Iraq, no consensus, and little feedback from the Bush administration.

BUSH: We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.

KOPPEL: Last month, President Bush put his vision for a post- Saddam Iraq into an historical context.

BUSH: There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken.

KOPPEL: World War II offers a primer on how to turn an enemy into a friend. General Douglas MacArthur ran Japan for most of the seven-year U.S. occupation, a successful operation according to John Dower (ph), who wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning book about it, but he says Iraq is nothing like Japan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Japan's neighbors, throughout Asia, most of whom Japan had savaged, regarded this as a legitimate occupation and a huge number of Japanese people also regarded it as legitimate. There is no such sense of legitimacy, worldwide approbation for what America is proposing in Iraq now, preemptive war followed by an ill-defined occupation. It simply doesn't compare.

KOPPEL: Critics are also skeptical about another part of the Bush vision, that of free Iraq could spread democracy.

BUSH: A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a pipe dream.

KOPPEL: Marina Ottoway (ph) is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you look at the opposition (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that exist in most Middle Eastern countries, the strongest ones are the Islamist parties, so that there is no doubt that they -- if you -- that if this country starts holding free and fair elections, the first beneficiaries are going to be the Islamist parties, so -- and that, of course, raises a lot of questions about the survival of democracy in the long run in this country.

KOPPEL: Ottoway (ph) says despite the rhetoric, the U.S. plan for Iraq seems to be more about occupation than building a democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think the U.S. has a plan on how to move from an occupation to a political reconstruction of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can only plan this to a certain degree. At some point, too much planning, if it translates into inflexibility, would be an error. We need to maintain some flexibility, because, quite honestly, we don't know exactly what it is we're going cot inherit on the ground.

KOPPEL: Laik Kuba (ph) wants to be a political player in a new democratic Iraq. He hopes nation building is high on the list of U.S. priorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy is not something you install in a country. It has to do with the political culture, it has to do with developing institutions, it has to do with merging with local forces, real forces, and looking at what's out there. That's not going to happen instantly.

KOPPEL: That's something Kuba (ph) and the State Department can agree on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't flip a switch and go from the sort of tyrannical dictatorship that Iraq has had to Jeffersonian democracy in a matter of days, weeks or months. This is something that is going to take years.

KOPPEL: But can the U.S. jump-start the democratic process in Iraq without seeming to dominate it? Kuba (ph) says the stakes are high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the U.S. plan boils down to the fact that this is going to be an occupation for the next two to three yeas, I mean, to me this is suicidal.


ANNOUNCER: When CNN PRESENTS returns, if regime change is the goal, why can't the U.S. just assassinate Saddam Hussein?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Killing someone with a rusty knife in a dark alley, it's clearly against American law, and the United States doesn't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After September 11, the whole world arena has changed. And I think we need to define our position on assassination.



BROWN: The risks of war in Iraq, the price of occupation. Could it all yet somehow still be avoided? If Saddam Hussein refuses to leave voluntarily, as expected, should the United States consider assassination as an alternative to war? It is a tricky question that raises difficult legal, ethical and moral issues. CNN's Wolf Blitzer examines the possibilities and the pitfalls of targeting Saddam.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This general was proposing to kill Saddam Hussein.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Bob Baer (ph) retired from the CIA after serving as a field agent in some of the world's hottest spots for more than 20 years. One of them was northern Iraq in the mid-'90s. A defecting Iraqi general close to Saddam's inner circle pitched him a plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His plan was to wait for Saddam's convoy to come to Baghdad, going to Tikrit. Saddam has a couple of palaces around Tikrit. And when the convoy got to the bridge that goes into Samara, they were going to block off both ends of the bridge with Saddam's car in the middle, and proceed to shoot it up until nobody moved in this convoy. BLITZER: There is just one little catch. Under Executive Order 12333 that would seem to be illegal. Section 2.11: "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in assassination."

RICHARD K. BETTS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, executive order issued by President Ford and reaffirmed since then after the investigations of the intelligence community in the mid-1970s that had revealed past involvement of the United States in plots to assassinate some foreign leaders.

BLITZER: Betts is referring to the Church Commission investigation. Some of its findings smacked of pulp fiction. The CIA tried to arrange an underworld hit on Fidel Castro, and it hatched a plan to kill Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba because he was feared to be a communist. The idea? Inject poison into his toothpaste. But Lumumba was toppled by a coup and eventually killed. The plan was never implemented.

Nonetheless, in 1975, for reasons both practical and moral, the Church Commission condemned assassination as a tool of foreign policy. The executive orders followed.

BETTS: If you go after foreign leaders and they find out, you can't be surprised if they come back and try to get at your leaders, so a concern about the danger of retaliation or a quid pro quo is another reason to make that sort of tactic in the minds of many people the last resort, if ever.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It's quite clear. It effectively takes assassination off the table as something the United States government can do in the peace time, or in normal times.

BLITZER: James Woolsey served as CIA director from 1993 to 1995, but not when Bob Baer (ph) was operating in northern Iraq. The CIA chief at that time, Admiral William Studeman and John Deutsch, declined to speak with us.

Baer (ph) says he was well aware of Executive Order 12333, so he pushed the defecting general in another direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I went to the general and I said, you know, the CIA has a problem with assassinations. This government, as you know, as public diplomacy wants regime change in Iraq, they want somebody else in power, so if you're intent upon getting rid of Saddam, go back to your colleagues in the military and do a traditional coup d'etat, and once you've got something planned, come back to me and I'll transmit that to Washington.

BLITZER: So what is the difference between an assassination and a potentially deadly coup?

BETTS: There is controversy about this, since some worry that a successful coup or a rebellion in which the leader was killed and which involved U.S. financial support or advice or other assistance might be interpreted as inconsistent with the executive order, but I don't think there is any consensus on that.

BLITZER: The president could authorize a CIA covert action by signing what's called "a presidential finding with lethal status."

WOOLSEY: If he does, that's not a violation of American law, for him to sign out a finding, which goes to the Congress, and says that the United States, through the CIA, would support a coup, and when you have a coup attempt or a so-called lethal finding, sometimes people get killed.

BLITZER: Last November, the CIA fired a Hellfire missile from an unmanned Predator drone to assassinate a suspected al Qaeda leader in Yemen. It was legal, U.S. officials said, because the president had signed an intelligence finding last fall that allowed the CIA to engage in legal covert operations against al Qaeda.

In other words, there seem to be loopholes in the ban on assassinations. In 1986, the U.S. bombed Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi's house, missed him, killed his daughter. The U.S. Air Force attempted to target Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War.

BETTS: Killing someone with a rusty knife in a dark alley, it's clearly against American law, and the United States doesn't do that. If you mean a military operation to kill an enemy commander, then we've done that.

BLITZER: If it's a military action, it's not assassination. It's called targeting military command and control. If it's a coup, well, that's not clear. To at least one CIA agent out in the field, these are legal distinctions that don't matter in real life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Question is, do you use one bullet, do you use a tank, do you use an airplane -- whether we call it an assassination or coup d'etat or whatever you want, or a simple invasion, he's going to end up dead. I think the question should be, is how many other people are going to die.

BLITZER: Baer (ph) believes a U.S.-led invasion would result in thousands of Iraqi casualties, and an assassination would result in fewer deaths.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we are going into a war, we're going to end up bombing cities, we're going to kill a lot of civilians, we're going to cause chaos in the region.

BLITZER: But any forced regime change -- assassination, coup, or invasion -- could have unintended consequences.

BETTS: There is always the problem that you don't know what the results will be. Very often, the problems in an enemy government that you're unhappy with are not just the result of one person, the dictator, but are more deeply rooted, and getting rid of that dictator may not solve those problems.

There is also the problem that you can create resentment and reactions and counterproductive effects by killing a foreign leader. BLITZER: Baer (ph) believes the risks must be calculated differently today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Americans, through the Cold War, did not want a CIA that was out assassinating people, running rogue coups, spying on Americans. After September 11, the whole world arena has changed, and I think we need to define our position on assassination. It's got to be very clear to the people involved, to the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency what their orders are. Right now, it isn't.

BLITZER: The debate over assassination could be a moot point. Even if the U.S. wanted to kill Saddam Hussein, some believe it could never get close to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest problem we have with assassinating Saddam Hussein is not the will, but the way.

BLITZER: We'll explain why when CNN PRESENTS returns.




BLITZER: Assassination. A threat always on Saddam Hussein's mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is, of course, very fearful.

BLITZER: Amazi Abaram (ph) is an Israeli historian who has studied Saddam Hussein for more than 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even paranoids have enemies sometimes, and yes, he's paranoid, he's the most paranoid leader in the modern world, but he also has many enemies.

BLITZER: How does Saddam Hussein avoid assassination by his many enemies? It is impossible to know for sure, but to try to get a glimpse inside his formidable security operation, we talked to members of the U.S. intelligence community and a number of former Iraqi officials that have since defected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are huge attempts to assassinate him.

BLITZER: For 15 years, Abbas Al-Jenabi (ph) had access to Iraq's inner circle, serving as press secretary and private secretary for Saddam Hussein's son, Uday. He defected in 1998.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you calculate how many assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein, you will find the declared ones it was about 13.

BLITZER: The biggest problem facing those who want to kill Saddam Hussein -- finding him. Ahmed Alsamorai (ph) served in the Iraqi military, rising to the rank of general before defecting in 1983.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He never sleeps in one place two nights, never. Even sometimes he changes his place the same night. He is very, very careful. He will never trust anybody, even his son.

WOOLSEY: He has several doubles. He stays rarely in the same place very night. He travels with an entourage, but so do his doubles.

BLITZER: A common technique of deception -- decoy multi-car convoys, each heavily guarded, even for the most everyday appointments. Another defector, Mr. Saleh (ph), as he's asked to be called, now heads an Iraqi opposition group based in the United States. Saleh (ph) says he made numerous trips to presidential palaces before he defected in 1994.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): One of his own bodyguards talked to me once. He said to me if Saddam Hussein wants to go to have lunch, so we had three groups inside the presidential palace. Each group needs seven to eight Mercedes vehicles, with the protection forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is three processions of cars. So nobody knows, even the bodyguards, even the people inside the cars which are supposed to follow the procession, they don't know where is the president, and nobody can say for exact (UNINTELLIGIBLE) driving with him.

KENNETH POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: In the Gulf War, he went a step beyond that. He drove around in a taxi. He drove around in an RV. He drove around in a van.

BLITZER: Kenneth Pollack was an Iraq analyst for 15 years at the CIA and the National Security Council.

POLLACK: He starts having many of his most important meetings in the homes of private citizens, knowing full well that the United States would never bomb a residential district in Baghdad on purpose, for fear of civilian casualties.

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein sometimes even travels with his own food, protected by special guards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He has special bodyguards regarding the food. They bring many persons to taste the food. They have a mobile hospital accompanying them. Some vehicles carry livestock; some of the cars have fish pools, live fish accompanying him.

BLITZER: Saleh (ph) says everyone close to Saddam Hussein is closely watched at all times, from the people who do his laundry to his personal tailor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He said they are afraid somebody while making a suit for him, he might also (UNINTELLIGIBLE). BLITZER: So even if an assassination were legal and the U.S. wanted to give it a try, it is clear that Saddam would be a hard man to reach.

POLLACK: The biggest problem we have with assassinating Saddam Hussein is not the will but the way. He has built a Stalinist police state that has made it impossible over 34 years for anyone to get to him and kill him. And while it's always possible that someone could do it in the future, it is highly unlikely.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, how a war with Iraq would play in the Arab world.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Replacing Saddam Hussein by the military government from the United States -- is this democracy? No. This is another dictatorship. Foreign dictatorship.



BROWN: Welcome back to CNN PRESENTS. For President Bush, it's all pretty clear-cut. The Middle East would be a more peaceful, more prosperous place without the threat of Saddam Hussein, and some Arab governments support Washington's position. But how would a U.S.-led invasion and an occupation of Iraq play among the people? We recently asked CNN's Sheila MacVicar to travel through three important Arab nations to sample the mood on the street. Here is her report on the road.


SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The cold winds of war are blowing, unsettling, bringing change or chaos or maybe even disaster. No one yet knows.

We set out on a journey to talk and learn what we could about what people here really think, from Jordan where people say they are squeezed between Iraq to the east and Israel to the west; north to Syria where people fear their country could someday soon be on an American list for change; to Lebanon where people remember all too well the costs of war, a story about Arabs and Americans that in many ways is also about Israel. We began in the streets of Amman.

(on camera): Before the Gulf War in 1991, these streets were full of posters of Saddam Hussein and there was tremendous popular support for him here. Iraq had invaded Kuwait but Saddam Hussein then aligned himself to the Palestinian cause and told the people of Jordan, most of whom are Palestinians, that he was fighting for them.

(voice-over): Jordan spent the last Gulf War sitting on the fence and the next ten years trying to build a better relationship with the U.S. Support for Saddam has in most places faded but as even the government acknowledges Jordan's people do not want this war.

MARWAN MUASHER, FOREIGN MINISTER OF JORDAN: We are walking an extremely tight rope. We will not jeopardize our relations with the United States. On the other hand it's going to be an extremely difficult position to defend in terms of our public opinion.

MACVICAR (on camera): Is that your nightmare scenario is that George Bush and the U.S. administration decide to go to war without a second resolution?

MUASHER: Absolutely.

MACVICAR (voice-over): War would be bad they say here, war without international sanction even worse, especially in a country which believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue and is being ignored by the U.S.

BASSEM AWADAJIAH, PLANNING MINISTER OF JORDAN: People in the Arab world blame the unequivocal and one-sided and total U.S. support for Israel, any policies right or wrong which really help Israel to continue the occupation of Palestinian lands. That perception does not bode well for the American image on the Arab street.

MACVICAR: As for the reasons why the U.S. administration is threatening to go to war, listen to two young Jordanians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they know that war means saying yes to Saddam Hussein.

MACVICAR: Maya Malis (ph) is the western educated 22-year-old editor-in-chief of Jordan's glossiest English language magazine. Dr. Hishan Bustani (ph) is a dentist politically active whose been in trouble with the Jordanian government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Create a security for the American people by attacking Iraq, tell me how?

MACVICAR: You don't feel that you would be safer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not really considering that Israel is right on the other side.

MACVICAR: Most believe in more democracy but not this way with a war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Replacing Saddam Hussein by a military government from the United States, is this democracy? No, this is another dictatorship, foreign dictatorship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democracy has to come from within the people. That is the whole point of democracy. If it's imposed then it's not really a democracy at all.

MACVICAR: Jordanians say they are deeply skeptical. They doubt the motives of the U.S. administration and they fear for fellow Arabs and not just in the big cities. (on camera): We're on our way down to Bekaa Camp. It's about 45 minutes outside of Amman and it's home to more than 150,000 people, all of them Palestinian refugees. This camp was set up after the 1967 war with Israel.

(voice-over): The people in this camp are among the poorest of the Palestinians who live in Jordan, the most dispossessed and sometimes the angriest.

We weren't allowed to wander through the camp on our own. A government minder was assigned to watch where we went and to listen to what people said. This is one place where people still supported Saddam Hussein, mostly it seemed because of the money paid to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saddam is a good person.

MACVICAR: George Bush says that Saddam -- why do you think Saddam is a good person? He has done many terrible things to Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's supporting the Palestinian cause.

MACVICAR: From the streets to the offices of government ministers, the recurring theme is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the damage done to American credibility by failing to act to make peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People will not tolerate an American tank in Baghdad, an Israeli tank in Ramallah. You know these two pictures are going to be put side by side.

MUASHER: If the U.S. sends a message that it needs to deal with one problem in the region and while at the same time acquiescing in the longest occupation in the world now, the occupation of the West Bank, it will lose any credibility it might have.

MACVICAR: We headed north. We're just going to go here to the north up to Jarash (ph). It's about halfway to the Syrian border. Jarash was built in the days of expansion of the Roman Empire and destroyed by an earthquake nearly 1,300 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the end of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's at the north gate...

MACVICAR: Sami Ahmey (ph) is finishing his Ph.D., studying the Arab-Israeli peace process and working as a tour guide to support his family. How many tourists have come here now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually now we have a very bad, you know, season because of the situation. We feel that the war is coming.

MACVICAR: Do you believe the U.S. administration when they say that they think that one of the good things that can could come out of this war is that there would be democracy in Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It is very good to have democracy in Iraq but not by not by the opinion of America. It is by the opinion of the Iraqis themselves.

MACVICAR: Looking around the ruins of Jarash, symbol of the once great Romans, Sami Ahmey had some thoughts about the meaning of empire and its lessons for the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once a time the Roman Empire will be something. They occupy all of the world but now they are nothing.

MACVICAR: Everywhere we went, people were impressed by the huge anti-war protests in American and Europe, but I wanted to know why in the region which has the most to lose were the demonstrations here so small? In the Jordanian city of Irvid (ph), talking to a young math student, I found some answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we can't protest for anything. We can't give our opinion for anything. We can't go for demonstrations at all.

MACVICAR: You couldn't do that here?


MACVICAR: As for the president's claim that regime change could lead to democracy...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the area and just don't want democracy for us. I don't think so.

MACVICAR: When we stopped to talk everyone wanted to join in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And democracy never, never, never, comes from outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell you something. American people is a very good people, our problem with the prime minister of America, Mr. Bush.

MACVICAR: Many people...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can not support everybody. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about Iraq, if there is a war it will be a disaster for American people and Arab people and Iraqi and children, everybody. No one's going to win in this war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people they have to kill to get Saddam Hussein?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think is that fair? Is it fair? We may dislike -- we may dislike the American government if it insists on its plans. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is that takes place we may even dislike the American people.

MACVICAR: There were many more who wanted to be heard who had messages for America and Americans, some who told me September 11 shocked and saddened them, but who warned that more war could create more extremists. MACVICAR: We got to go now. But we had to go. We were overdue at the Syrian border. Our fixer from next door Lebanon (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had come to meet us and our Jordanian driver had to turn back. How long will it take us to get to Damascus?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe one hour maybe.

MACVICAR: Inshala (ph).




MACVICAR: When you talk about civilization, Syrians like to remind you their capital Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, an old culture that has slowly started to embrace reform.

For nearly 20 years, Syria has been on the U.s. State Department's list of state sponsors of terror and it has not yet made peace with Israel. But with a seat on the Security Council, it voted to support Resolution 1441. I wondered how Syria would vote now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, we would not support any resolution that would authorize an attack.

MACVICAR: At the foreign ministry we met Dr. Buthaina Shabon (ph) a key adviser to Syria's president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. administration is making its best to make everybody angry with it. I fear that American people might suffer, you know, if a war in Iraq takes place because terrorism would gain a more fertile soil.

MACVICAR: People are not very free to speak their minds here and we had the company of Mr. Badi (ph) of the Syrian government to watch our every move. But on the streets, people echoed Dr. Shabon.

At the gates of Damascus University, we met Samir Qarqutly (ph), his favorite American writer Arthur Miller.

What do you think could happen to Americans if there is a war with Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it will win great enemies all over the world.

MACVICAR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a medical student.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I think America may face more terrorism, maybe from the people of Iraq. The people of Iraq, they don't want to die.

MACVICAR: What they can not understand, they say, is how a war leaves anyone feeling more secure and there is uncertainty about what the United States would do next.

(on camera): The subject that makes people here most uncomfortable is talking about the Bush administration's plans for more democracy throughout the region because when you talk about more democracy throughout the region, you're really talking about making big changes in Syria.

(voice-over): In this part of the world it seems the more you talk about democracy from the outside, the more you build resentment inside -- Dr. Shabon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a Ph.D. from the west. Now I have a huge sensitivity for the word democracy. They want us to understand things as they do.

MACVICAR: Outside Damascus, winter had set in. Everybody was a little giddy. In the resort town of Ludan (ph), the residents were digging out. It made a change from talking about politics. They hadn't seen this much snow for a decade. We found Raj Adiba (ph) a painter making a snow sculpture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are praying to God to be with Iraqis. We don't want the war.

MACVICAR: Here's Damascus.


MACVICAR: Right here is Lebanon. See what the weather is like on the other side. Our next stop across one more border and into Lebanon. All right, are we (UNINTELLIGIBLE), OK. Thank you so much. Now we're going to go very slow.

Down into the now flooded plain of the Bekaa Valley. We're in water up to our hubcaps.


MACVICAR: Syrian tank transports splashed by us on their way out of Lebanon, soldiers that had been in Lebanon since 1975. The Lebanese remember all too well the costs and consequences of war, war that raged for 15 years.


MACVICAR: In the mountains north of Beirut, we went to visit Serge Hoshar (ph), a Christian, an Arab, and a renowned wine maker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, we're going to taste the chateau musar (ph) '95.

MACVICAR: All through the war with the exception of one year, he managed to produce his chateau musar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When September 11th happened I flew to the states to tell all the people I do come from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We lived in the terrorism. It's the biggest threat to humanity. So, we are with you. We are entering the world of risk of the global stage. This is why I say what happened to (unintelligible) might happen to the world.

MACVICAR: Al-Minar TV, the television station of Islamic resistance allied to Hezbollah. The U.S. State Department calls Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The Israelis say Al-Minar is its mouthpiece.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody likes Saddam Hussein and everybody would like to see him going aside I would guess but not this way.

MACVICAR: Ibrahim Moussaoui (ph) is the managing editor for Al- Minar's English language broadcasts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a matter of interest. The bottom line is oil.

MACVICAR: It was his assessment that Hezbollah would not now use a possible war with Iraq as a reason to attack Americans or again Israelis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe that the Hezbollah people will do anything what you're thinking of the military level or other things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Hezbollah allies are the Syrians. Do they want to put the Syrians in a very difficult position now? I don't think so. I don't think so at all.

MACVICAR: Jameel Norway (ph) is a publisher of the Beirut newspaper "The Daily Star." He had a message for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America is medicine. America is the space. America is the airplanes.

MACVICAR: And most importantly he said America is the rule of law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now if this is the America that he pretends that he wants to represent, he has a golden opportunity across the globe. But if it is the ugly American, the paratrooper that thinks that he can get away with it, well I have news that you already know, that you already know and felt across the Atlantic that exploded your isolation.

MACVICAR: The scars of September 11 are felt here too, coupled with the fear that the U.S. administration will not understand what going to war might bring.

And you think that this war runs the risk of creating a bigger problem for the United States?

As Arabs what do you think Americans think about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like the Lebanese we are terrorists. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a physical therapist. He's an engineer. She's a sales woman and we went to school. We went to college. We know three languages. We don't seem like terrorists. Look at us. We are not like terrorists.

MACVICAR: If there is war, it may unleash forces across the region, people here say, that bring changes and unintended consequences, and it is very, very hard to see, they say, what good this war could do.



BROWN: With a quarter a million U.S. troops now positioned in and around the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon says it's ready for the final showdown with Saddam Hussein. In the words of one senior officer from the 82nd Airborne, "the gun is loaded, the hammer is cocked." And so the only remaining question is, will President Bush pull the trigger or will diplomacy avert a war?

That's it for this special edition of CNN PRESENTS. I am Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next week.


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